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Only the good

I’ve finally heard the sad news that broke over the weekend about the death of game designer and writer Barron Vangor Toth.

I was a devotee of Barron’s weekly poker column on Gutshot.com.  He wrote mostly about fixed-limit Hold’em and somehow managed to turn his accounts of probably the least dramatic poker game there is into a compelling read. 

He died from cancer aged 34.

That’s so sick.

The voice of fluff

"There might be bluff, there might be fluff, here at Premier League poker".

Just one of the dozens of random soundbites that Jesse May has been coming out with for the tape while we waited for this evening’s heat to begin.

One of the perks of reporting on a televised poker tournament is being able to see all the bits that don’t make it to the final show.  What I’d do right now for a capture card in my laptop and a sly cable into the live video feed.

Earlier, May introduced Phil Hellmuth as "eleven time WSOP champion" and the pair recorded a punditry piece about the upcoming game.

We don’t get to hear what is happening on the other end of May’s earpiece, but clearly the Powers That Be weren’t quite happy with it, so they had to go again.

But first, Hellmuth had a request.  "If you’re going to say ‘eleven’, say ‘record’ baby.  I worked hard for that record".  Who on earth is powerful enough to argue with that?

They began again.  "I am joined this evening by … err … record … err".

It’s the first time I’ve seen the Voice of Poker lost for words, but he quickly reaffirmed his legendary status.  He laughed it off for about half a second, put his game face back on and nailed it the second time.

Anyone got a copy of Pro Blogging for Dummies?

Can you believe someone is actually paying me to blog for a week?

Not only that, but a good chunk of the time I’ll be required to pay very close attention to Vicky Coren’s stack.

I’ve had worse jobs.

I’ve joined the reporting team at PokerNews.com and will be posting hand-for-hand updates on the Party Poker Premier League from a cell block in East London.

Updates will appear here, starting soon:
http://uk.pokernews.com/live-reporting/partypoker-premier-league-2008/no-limit-holdem/blog/

Poker Nostalgia

For their 25th anniversary, Poker Player Newspaper has made available copies of some of their very first issues from 1982.

It’s a fascinating read

Back then, the Stardust was in its prime…

… the Golden Nugget was spreading $1/$2 Pineapple on a regular basis …

… and David Sklansky had great hair.

In issue 1, Mike Caro wrote his first "Today’s word" column, which is still going strong today and he only looks slightly different.

There’s a feature on computerised poker tables, where players see their cards on a screen but still bet on the felt.  Not quite as sophisticated as the PokerPro tables that can be used to create a fully automated cardroom, but it’s interesting to see that what’s being touted as the latest advancements in poker technology is not quite as innovative as many may think.

This was my favourite story though.  A young whippersnapper named Stu Ungar caused some fuss among the old-timers at the tables by wearing – god forbid – headphones while playing poker.  It’s not like he started a trend or anything…

 

Team Donut hiatus

If anyone cared, they’d probably already realised that I’m not soliciting any poker sponsorship for my upcoming Vegas trip.  It’s a bit late now at T minus 2, but – amazingly – leaving everything until the last minute isn’t the reason.

In fact I’m actually quite organised for this trip.  I already had the "oh shit where’s my passport" panic earlier in the week, and as long as I don’t move it again in the meantime that should be that.

There are just no poker tournaments of note going on in Vegas during the very quiet Christmas period or over insanely busy New Year weekend, so there’s nothing to get excited enough about to get anyone else involved.

Last December I got to play in the Ultimate Poker Challenge which kept on running weekly throughout the holidays, despite getting only 36 runners for a $660 tournament in Christmas week.  Six players got on TV, but only four got paid.  I’d love to be doing that again, especially with those great odds of televised glory.  After seeing that disgraceful turnout though, I’m not surprised that there’s nothing special going on at this time of year.

Tournament-wise I do want to play at least one of the midday deep stack events at Venetian ($540 Saturdays, $145 every other day) which should be handy the first three days when we’re staying next door at Casino Royale and I’m still too jetlagged to play well at night.  Otherwise, I’m just going to play it by ear.  The last few weeks playing online I’ve flitted between fixed limit and no limit, so I really don’t know yet what will take my fancy.

Don’t worry though.  I’ll be pimping myself out again to try to win as many people as possible their money back – or even a small profit this time – in 2008.  Stay tuned.

From dusk till nearly midnight

May I be among the first to openly show my support for, and in fact to encourage, Dusk Till Dawn bringing in house-banked casinos games.  Because at 11:30pm on Sunday night, just after my pocket kings ran into pocket queens without me making a straight, I couldn’t be bothered to hang around waiting for spot in a side game to open up, so I just left.

I really don’t want to see this club fall victim to its own pretensiousness.  I already mentioned the state-of-the-art bathroom and thug-ass bouncers, didn’t I?  Good job I had the right shoes on, or my feet weren’t getting under any of their tables.  My word they think they’re great.

Indeed, it is all very fancy.  I was particularly impressed with the variety of colours of the poker tables.  Particularly the hot pink cloth.  Sadly I only got to play on a blue table, and that alone is probably enough to get me back for a second visit.  The bathroom was just as pictured, with the exception of a few puddles.  Some people just don’t respect a designer piss pot.

I certainly don’t want to see the incredible hard work it’s taken to get the venue finally open, in the face of extreme pressure from the major casino chains, go down the drain.  It should be of some satisfaction to the owners that word started to spread that Gala’s tournament only had 34 runners.  The resident know-it-all at my table – from whom I learned that iPhones do not have a screensaver and constantly display what you’re listening to in full screen; he was rocking out to Gold: The Best of Spandau Ballet – said there’s usually 80 or 90 in the Sunday game.

Dusk Till Dawn’s entire reason for existing is to be a poker venue that is not a casino, depsite requiring a full casino license to operate.  It’s been a conscious decision to snub the more profitable games such as blackjack and roulette and remain purely poker.

There wasn’t even a single fruit machine machine in sight, or even one of those equally-rigged but extremely popular "skill bingo" games where you slap "accept" or "reject" as quickly as you can to match balls to your card as they are drawn at a speed just just slow enough to stop you from winning with a perfect game, unless it’s time to satisfy the minimum payout criteria.

Before DTD opened I often said, only half-jokingly, that it would surely only be a matter of time before house-banked casino games start creeping in "by popular demand".  It’s not that I’m desparate to play blackjack or roulette in between hands – in fact my vote would be for video poker, although a poker-based table game like Let It Ride or Carribean Stud would also be a good fit – but I really can’t see how it would do more harm than good.

So I’m more than a little worried that the exclusivity they have striven to achieve, the very thing which sets them apart from any other casino, could also be an obstacle – and not just in terms of developing new players and generating enough revenue to keep the place afloat once the novelty wears off.  It’s just great poker.  I do mean great poker, but it is just poker.

The tournament on Sunday was a superb structure.  5000 starting chips, a 30 minute clock and every possible blind level you can think of (in fact, they slipped in 150/300 with no ante in addition to the levels listed on the web site).  I figure this structure has a half-life of about 3 hours, and when I busted after nearly 4 hours, there were about 40 players left from 90 who started, and (somehow, in an invitation-only tournament) one alternate.  The blinds were 200/400 with a 25 ante and the average stack was about 11k – about 30 big blinds - so it’s not even close to becoming a pushfest at that point. 

If my estimates are right, there’d be two tables remaining sometime after 1am, with the final table kicking off between 3am and 4am and average stacks of about 20 big blinds.  A little short, but it’s far from over as dawn approaches.  If you get this far and don’t have to go to work the next day, you’ll have a huge edge in any deal-making – just stall until you get the price you want!

So what is there to do when you get knocked out?  When I went to check, there were two sit-and-go lists, both for twenty quid and with a choice between normal (10 minute blinds) and turbo (6 minute blinds).  It’s awesome that they’d make such a distinction between getting three hands per level versus as many as five.  Quite the opposite of the main tournament, and remembering how much I hated the $60 SNGs at the MGM Grand (which had a massive 15 minute clock, and automatic shufflers) I decided this wasn’t for me.  Where’s the dice table?

I could have got into a £5/£5 No Limit Hold’em game, but I’m not ashamed to say that’s a little on the large side for my cojones.  There was also "4/5/6 Card Omaha" on the menu at the same limits.  Seems like a gamblin’ game to me

The smallest game was £1/£2 NL.  Hell yeah I’d be buying in short, but you know it makes sense.  The rake is high (5% rake is attractive, but a £10 cap much less so) and I expected the competition to be tough.  But there was a list, and I just couldn’t figure out what I would do in the meantime.  Who knew how long it would be to get a seat, or start a new table?  The tournament was busting players slowly and there’s no and I didn’t think many people who were already in a game would be calling it a day just yet.  What I really needed was a way to spit off a few quid on a different type of card game.

Call me impatient - I know I am.  But I also couldn’t help wondering what would have happened if I hadn’t come alone.  The venue is built for players, not spectators, so if you’re hanging around for a companion who is doing a little better than yourself don’t even think about being a railbird.  The dramatic ampitheatre-style layout actually means there isn’t actually a rail where you can stand and watch the action.  In fact the tables are a little too close together, with seats 4 through 7 on adjacent tables both getting bumped when someone walks between them.

It’s a bit easier to get a view of the ground-floor final table (they were still playing from Saturday night when I arrived) but you could go broke after a couple of hours and, if you’re not interested in side games, have nothing to do but admire the bathroom for another six before there’s anything to be cheering for.

I guess I’m lucky then to be content being a poker loner, and to have a partner who even encourages me to piss off on my own to play cards now and again.  At least, I think that’s a good thing…

Car park flasher

I only managed to get this crappy photo before I decided that suspiciously hanging around the Dusk Till Dawn car park with a camera – which had already alerted three bored bouncers to my activity, when I’m sure I’d specifically told it not not to flash – was probably a bad idea.

In case you can’t actually see anything, it’s a Chrystler MPV, registration: K10 DTD.

So whose car is this?  Simon "king-ten" Trumper doesn’t quite have the right ring to it, does it?

Live Updates: Dusk Till Dawn Opening Weekend

After I’ve enjoted the champagne and canapes at the last of the Dusk Till Dawn opening weekend parties this evening, I’ll be playing a little cards.

The finest bathroom in all of Nottingham

It’s a lousy picture because I ripped it from a PDF copy of a magazine article that’s been optimised for print, and I have no idea how to convert that back to a version that looks good on screen – short of printing it and scanning in back in.  It’s not really worth that much effort.

This is a picture of the bathroom at Dusk Till Dawn, the UK’s first dedicated poker club and, self-proclaimed prior to opening, "Europe’s Premier Poker Venue".

"All our basins are done in cherrywood veneer.  A lot of expensive finishings have been done in this place.  Nothing has been done on the cheap".

I’d love to know if they’ve made the same effort with the Ladies’ bathroom, or are even anticipating any female members at all given their heavily tit-fueled promotion regime, but alas I’ll probably never actually know.

Old nit in “not a fan of Omaha” shocker

GBC = Gamblers’ Book Shop.  Worst acronym ever?

They have a podcast now.  In fact it’s been going for a few months but as usual I’m playing catch-up.  This was a little gem back from episode #2 when celebrity bookshop owner Howard Schwartz (he thought I was from Pennsylvania) asks Vegas old-timer Sam O’Connor what he thinks about Omaha poker.

[8 second clip - press play!]

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

"Well it seems like a gamblin’ game to me".

I’m not particularly surprised.  I’m only part way through O’Connor’s book, Just Sit Tight and Wait For The Nuts, but it’s already in great shape to be the nittiest poker strategy I’ve ever read by a mile.